In the run-up to Christmas, I was asked many times why I wasn’t going to be returning home to the UK for the holidays. My response was that I wanted to make the most of being in Canada for Christmas, and here are the reasons why I’m glad that I did:
- The atmosphere at work
Cute primary students become even cuter when they’re writing you Christmas cards and asking you to deliver their letters to Santa Claus. I’ve also recently started working in a nursery, where I was treated to a wobbly rendition of Jingle Bells from children who are still young (read: lucky) enough to have naptime on their timetable. As well as leading a “giant soap bubble workshop”, I spent my last week of a very busy term organising a Christmas concert where my grade 4 students sang three songs we’d been working on, complete with heart-melting gestures, to the whole school. My favourite festive occasion however was the staff Christmas party, where we waited until the children had toddled off home before enjoying a Chinese fondue and several drinks and turning the school cafeteria into a dance floor. It was certainly a bonding experience for all involved and I feel lucky to be working alongside such fun and welcoming people!
- The Narnia situation
Whilst winter has brought temperatures so low that sometimes all of my limbs begin to hurt at once (I’m talking -25 degrees with the wind chill causing it to feel like -40!) and has certainly made the driving experience more interesting, shall we say, I am still constantly in awe to be living here in the middle of the snow kingdom and to have the chance to skate on frozen lakes and snow-shoe through magical fluffy forests. More on my white Christmas later!
- Pretty places became even prettier
A stroll through the beautiful Old Québec is always lovely, but what made it more so this month was the generous sprinkling of Christmas markets and festive lights and the sound of carol singers as we eagerly warmed our hands on many a mulled wine. Nothing however could top the seasonal electricity bill going into one of the houses in Saint-Georges, which turned into a Beauce-wide tourist attraction!
- When in Saint Georges…
To celebrate the winter solstice, our town held a torchlit walk across the bridge and around the island, followed by free soup and hot chocolate. It’s always good fun to go out and get involved with whatever the local community are doing, and we happened to bump into a very kind couple who invited us to their Christmas Eve celebration (known as a réveillon) which would culminate in an outing to midnight mass. It was a wonderful opportunity to experience a real Québecois Christmas in such lovely company, and certainly added a touch of magic to our own Christmas Day celebrations.
- Christmas Day in my home away from home
Probably the highlight of the month was spending Christmas Day with two of my best friends at our home in Saint Georges in the whitest Christmas-card-esque setting imaginable. We’d been slightly wary of how the day might go, especially as for two of us it was our first Christmas away from home, but as soon as we woke up we knew we’d made the right call. We all Skyped our families briefly in the morning to show them the snow and then set about preparing Christmosas and a very relaxed dinner, which we enjoyed as we gazed out of the window at more gently falling snow. The rest of the day was spent watching all the right films, playing games and walking the streets of Saint Georges to admire everyone’s lights. Of course, we missed our families, but it felt incredibly adult to embrace the day as a whole new experience and do everything ourselves. I can safely say that Christmas in Canada was one I’ll never forget!
- A place to entertain and to be entertained
One of my favourite places to spend an evening in Saint Georges is Café l’Aléa, a space which describes itself as ludique et culturel. This means that as well as boasting a vast range of board games (to which the lovely owner is always all too happy to introduce us), they often host a variety of events such as tea tasting, swing dancing taster sessions and writing classes. I went along with my friend Tom to a packed-out comedy night at which one of our friends was performing, and while we may not have caught every single québecois pun, it felt great to understand most of what was going on and thus be able to appreciate just how hilarious our friend’s performance was! There’s always a nice atmosphere in the café and on some cosy winter evenings I’ve even plucked up the courage to play the keyboard in the corner for a couple of hours. Here’s one of the photos I took for their competition (in which I was the runner up!):
- Sharing the journey
Whilst driving on my own can often turn my car into a cathartic stage as I serenade my sat-nav, it’s not always the most cost-efficient way to travel and new company is always welcome! This is why I decided to start offering several journeys that I was already planning to take this month as covoiturage trips, something in which I’ve only ever participated as a passenger when I was travelling around Lyon during my year in France. I was pretty nervous turning up to my first passenger’s house as it had just begun to snow heavily and I’ve only been driving since September, but she was an architecture student about to head to Lyon for six months and so the amount we suddenly had to talk about did well to take my mind off the stressful driving conditions! Following this success, when my flatmate and I left for Montreal, we did so with two happy Canadian guests in tow. They more than covered our gas money and were very patient when we got lost while searching for a Tim Hortons, the latter now being an essential character trait for anyone wishing to get in my car!
- Natural wonders in dramatic settings
We were incredibly lucky to spend the morning of New Year’s Eve Eve gazing in awe at Niagara Falls. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking:
- Seeing in 2018 from Toronto
The rest of our New Year’s Ontario trip was spent in Toronto itself, where we ate all kinds of wonderful things whilst warming up from our freezing endeavours on the streets of the endless city. We welcomed in the New Year from Nathan Phillips Square with the rest of Toronto (and baffled everyone around us with our enthusiastic rendition of Auld Lang Syne!) and then took the subway home for free thanks to a drinks company that had impressively covered the public transport home for the whole city to make sure people made the right call and didn’t drink drive home. Other highlights of the trip for me included having dinner with my friend Julie, a fellow language assistant from my time in Saint-Étienne, and the wonderful collection on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where the first piece I stopped at was a photography exhibition of the Norfolk Broads. Both of these occasions had me marvelling at the paradoxical way in which the world can seem so vast yet so small all in the same moment.
That’s it for now! Come back soon for some 2018 musings 😊